Feds denied extra hours off to vote

The Office of Personnel Management says agencies already have authority to adjust excused absence policies.

The acting director of the Office of Personnel Management on Thursday denied a request to give federal employees two additional hours of excused absence to vote on Election Day.

Federal agencies already have authority to grant an excused absence for federal employees, "including the ability to adjust policies to circumstances as they unfold," said OPM acting Director Michael Hager in a letter to Reps. Tom Davis, R-Va., and James Moran, D-Va.

Hager was responding to an Oct. 30 letter from Davis and Moran, who requested up to five hours of excused absence for federal employees to vote on Nov. 4. Because turnout has risen in recent years and changes in federal and state election laws can increase the amount of time it takes to process votes, employees could face longer lines at polling sites and delays that could exceed the current three-hour excused absence, the congressmen argued.

Current OPM rules dictate that if the polls are not open at least three hours before or after an employee's regular work hours, the employee is eligible to report to work three hours after the polls open or leave work three hours before the polls close, whichever requires the lesser amount of time off. The rules define regular work hours as the time of day an employee normally arrives at and departs from work.

But Hager said only 30 minutes to one hour of excused absence typically is needed to provide employees with a three-hour period to vote either before or after the end of their work day.

"Because polling places are usually open for extended periods of time, excused absence is usually not needed," Hager wrote. "This historic arrangement allows for a strong balance of keeping the federal government functioning while providing time necessary for employees to exercise their right to vote."

Hager said OPM will notify federal chief human capital officers and human resource directors to "remind them of existing excused absence flexibilities and of their responsibility to support federal employees in voting in this year's elections."